Super Mario Sunshine
Review by Suprak the Stud
"Mario Has a New Title to Add to His Resume - Janitor"
Without a doubt, Mario is truly one of the icons of the gaming world. For a time, Nintendo became synonymous with quality gaming, and no single character represented the franchise like Mario. Mario games on previous systems have really become staples of the generation, providing gamers of all ages hours of entertainment. These games have really set the bar incredibly high, with each installment somehow actually improving on the previous one. Perhaps due to these inflated expectations, Super Mario Sunshine for the Gamecube provides a somewhat disappointing experience, despite the fact that it is not necessarily a bad game. There really is a fair amount of entertainment that can be gleaned from Sunshine, and there isn't a tremendous amount wrong with the game. However, the overall experience of the game is only satisfactory, and considering this game comes from a series that has in the past defined gaming excellence, it imparts a tremendously disappointing feeling.
At the onset of the game, we se Mario and Peach (and several of her closest Toadstool slaves er helpers) aboard a plane traveling towards the tropical Isle Delfino. Exhausted from their duties baking cakes and defending the kingdom from ne'er-do-wellers, Peach and Mario are planning for some time off and relaxation time in the sun. However, before Mario can even get his swim trunks on (luckily for me and those everywhere that dislike shirtless plumbers), he finds himself confronted by mass amounts of vandalism. Apparently, some Mario look alike has spread multicolored goop all over the island, covering landmarks and townspeople alike, and summoning his goopy minions to terrorize those on the island. Unfortunately, those on the island either have very poor vision or are simply looking for some sap to clean up the mess, because they mistake this ethereal, entirely black Mario impersonator with Mario himself. Thus, Mario is forced to clean the mess and forego the endless pasta buffet he had been planning to attend. Finally, Nintendo has been able to satisfy that coveted demographic of gamers that have a love for platform gaming and an unquenchable desire to clean. What is interesting about Sunshine is this is the first installment in the main Mario series that transcends beyond the whole hey, some dinosaur stole the princess and her last hope is this plumber and maybe his brother if he doesn't have something else to do motif and actually attempts to create a story to accompany the gameplay. While the idea itself is sound, and story does not necessarily have to detract from the core of the game, the story is so ludicrous and poorly implemented that it is actually somewhat embarrassing. I actually found myself yearning for the deliberate lack of story from the previous Mario titles. Despite how bad the story is, it really should not serve as a deterrent for purchasing the game, because the focus on the story is so minor that as long as you can force your way through the occasional thirty second scenes, you'll be back stomping bad guys and cleaning graffiti in no time.
The little that you do need to know about the story is that the vandalism has caused the shines, guardians of the island and perpetuators of continuous sunlight, to scatter. Despite the fact that the constant sunlight must be causing some sort of perpetual draught and poor crop yields, the people on Delfino simply adore it, and thus Mario must collect the shines in an effort to quash the darkness that now permeates Delfino, similar to the stars he had to collect in Super Mario 64. Some of these are entrusted to enemies, some are hidden along the island, and some are being hoarded by the no good inhabitants of Delfino themselves. (You want the shines to come back? Then release them from your clutches, you greedy swine!) The central hub for your quest is Delfino Plaza, but as you progress through the game you will unlock other ancillary locations that provide additional opportunities to find shines and clean. The locations range from an amusement park to a hotel to a beachfront, each with a new set of challenges to defeat and a new group of shines to rescue. Some of these levels are very well done and organized very well. For example, the Hotel level is wonderfully designed and is split into both an outdoor and indoor component. The level is large with a lot of stuff to explore, and nearly all of the missions are unique and legitimately fun. However, despite the quality of level design (in most cases), Sunshine suffers from a lack of quantity of different levels. There are only seven of these areas to explore, and unfortunately a decent amount of missions are either redundant or somewhat tedious. For example, each area has a level in which you must follow Shadow Mario around and spray him with water. That's it. He runs around haphazardly (his lack of clear direction indicates to me that he might be intoxicated) and after you squirt him for a little while he concedes defeat. There are red coin missions in each area as well, in which Mario must go around and find some poorly hidden (like Mom hiding Easter Eggs for children difficulty) red coins, an objective that wasn't very appealing when it first appeared in Mario 64. However, the majority of the missions are still entertaining and have enough distinct qualities that there shouldn't be too much of a sense of deja vu. Some of these will remind you just why Nintendo has been so successful with the Mario franchise. The FLUDD systems does add a new element to the classic platforming expectation established by the previous Mario iteration, and some missions really demonstrate just how effectively this new system could be implemented. While there are a decent number of throwaway missions, the overall quality is still high enough that these occasional blips are excusable (but still more frequent than anticipated).
For those of you familiar with Super Mario 64 (which I can only assume is anyone who would go to read reviews on a video game website), the controls in Sunshine are nearly exactly the same. However, the addition of the FLUDD system adds a new level of complexity and originality to the nearly perfect control scheme. FLUDD is a gadget attached to Mario's back that allows him to spray water in an effort to simplify his janitorial efforts. However, the pack does more than serve as a technologically advanced mop, as various nozzles also allow Mario to float, run quickly, and rocket himself high in the air. While the floating nozzle is particularly significant, and it comes in handy in a variety of situations, the latter two are actually somewhat gimmicky and are not likely to be used often in your quest to make Delfino shiny and beautiful again. When they are needed, it is obvious and the nozzles are often provided right before the challenge. However, the controls for all of these nozzles work surprisingly well and are so easy to pick up on that most people will have them mastered within the first half hour of the game. Additionally, all of Mario's non FLUDD related moves are executed very easily and seem very natural on the Gamecube controller. The only aspect of the controls that proved to be cumbersome were those related to the control of the camera. Unfortunately, these never seem to work as well as they should and can provide undue frustration when trying to control Mario. While most of the controls are perfect and simple to execute, the camera does prove to be more complex and requires a lot of manual modifications. Some levels require Mario to be moving as you move the camera to improve the view, which requires the simultaneous manipulation of two joysticks in a very precise manner. While this is certainly not impossible, it does require some practice and Mario will undoubtedly be tumbling to his death a couple of times before this will be perfected. It would have been better to allocate a button to set the camera behind Mario that didn't cause him to stop in place. Worse than this is the occasional crevice you might find yourself in where the camera refuses to adjust itself. Once again, this only happens once in a great while, but when it does it is tremendously frustrating (and typically ends up with a dead Mario). However, while sometimes difficult to use, the manual camera system does work fairly well most of the time.
One of the primary complaints about the Super Mario 64 was a disappointing lack of boss battles. Technically speaking, this problem is remedied in Sunshine, as the number of boss encounters far surpasses that from Mario 64. Each level typically contains one or two boss battles, and most of these are very well designed. From an eel with dental deficiencies to an electric goop ray, there are a few notable bosses that are not only well designed in the sense of physical appearance, but also in terms of gameplay mechanics As such, many of these bosses are legitimately fun to battle against. A lot of these bosses utilize the FLUDD system well, integrating the new move sets into the battle tactics. It is somewhat unfortunate that some of the bosses are reused, with Gooper Blooper returning not twice, but at three different times to challenge Mario to battle. It would be understandable if the battles were tweaked somewhat, but this boss is simply recycled for two additional encounters that differ only in the location of the battle. As this particular battle wasn't really fun the first time, this just comes off as a little lazy. However, these encounters are really the exception rather than the norm, and most boss battles are unique and fun. However, a problem that plagues boss battles more frequently is a surprising lack of difficulty. While most are well executed, they are simple enough that you should be able to beat them in your first try, some without even sustaining any damage. This includes the final boss encounter as well, which was so easy that I really did not believe it was done until the credits started to roll. The game really ends anticlimactically, which is a shame considering how well Mario 64 ended.
However, the criticism against boss battles really serves as a larger critique of the game in general. My main complaint against Sunshine in general is the noticeable lack of difficulty. While in some ways the implementation of FLUDD is really ingenious and adds a new set of complexity to the Mario series, most of the time it actually dilutes the effectiveness of the platforming first illustrated in Mario 64. The jumps no longer have to be as precise, nor the landings as perfect, because hovering with FLUDD allows you far more room for error. Some might come to find this as a good thing, as the game has far fewer moments of Mario having to climb back up all the way to the top of something because you couldn't time his jump just right. Yet, there are very few moments where you can revel in your general awesomeness for finally snatching a particularly difficult shine, because these are few and far between. However, to quash concerns like this one, the developers have included a couple of missions each level that must be accomplished without FLUDD saving Mario from plummeting to his doom. The difficulty level on these varies from easy to crazy, controller smashingly hard, and really are some of the best designed scenarios in the game. Partly because of how easy this game is, it also happens to be a relatively short title, and it isn't unreasonable to beat the game within 10-15 hours. Fully completing the game, unlocking all shines and getting the Delfino police off your case, takes longer and does add some replay value to the title.
One last notable addition to this game is a number of blue coins (240 in total) that you must search Delfino for and can exchange for additional shines. However, while it is fun for a while to go back and scrounge around for glorious, blue coins, this novelty wears off quickly and at some time you'll undoubtedly find yourself frustrated in your search for the last couple of coins. Oh, so you have to spray this small area and you can only do it during this one specific scenario? How could I have possibly missed this coin for ten hours? Nintendo doesn't even include any hints or give any sort of indication how many of these coins are sequestered in a specific level, and thus Mario will find himself blindly spraying everything in sight, on the off chance that a blue coin might pop out.
One area that definitely improved over the last game are the visuals. The game really utilizes the increased power of the Gamecube, and Mario has never looked better (128 bits really complements his epic mustache). The game definitely has a very cartoony look to it, which really complements the mood of the game perfectly. Besides, realistic looking Mario would just be creepy. However the sound in this game really ends up hurting the title. All of the main characters are given actual speaking roles that expand beyond the usual grunt, mamma mia, or Italian gibberish, with the notable exception of Mario, who thankfully was left mostly mute. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are voiced by the worst cast of voice actors ever compiled within a game. The voices range from annoying to absurdly, how-could-they-possibly think-this-could-make-the-game-better awful. Thankfully, the voice overs are infrequent enough that it does not provide a major impediment to playing the game, and there always is the option of just muting the television (or loudly humming the Mario theme to yourself; your choice). The music in the game was also somewhat of a letdown, as the couple decent tracks are mostly just remixes of classic Mario tracks and the new ones are somewhat boring and uninspired.
Sunshine is by no means a bad gaming experience. Especially if you're a Gamecube owner, there really aren't an abundance of quality games that afford you the capacity to be unnecessarily picky. The control scheme is solid, and it does offer a unique departure from the previous entrees in the series. However, there is something lacking in this game that made prior Mario games so memorable. The levels are not as memorable, nor the challenges as difficult. The water pack, while adding new elements of strategy to the gameplay and undeniably fun, in many ways oversimplifies the challenges contained within the game, and platforming really takes a secondary role to FLUDD. This is not necessarily bad, and I'm sure there are many that might even find this preferable to the previously established norms of platforming. However, while this is open to debate, it is not possible to dismiss other faults of the game, including a shoddy, imperfect camera, silly and utterly embarrassing dialogue, and limited difficulty, which in turn leads to a less enjoyable gaming experience. There are a lot of somewhat minor problems, but when taken as a whole it becomes apparent that there is a lot of room for improvement. For once, Mario ends up disappointing in what has been his niche for twenty years. This is not meant to be a recommendation against the game, because as I have previously reiterated, this is a solid title that really is better than many other similar games on the market. In fact, this title comes recommended to all platforming fans, as Mario once again delivers a solid performance another good title. However, good is a failure for this series, and for once Mario might find his platforming throne usurped by numerous other challengers. There are a lot of other platforming options for various other consoles that are either equal or superior to this title, and when assessed solely on its own merits, Sunshine falls short of greatness. It speaks volumes of the franchise that a genuinely good game might be viewed as a low point in the series, but Sunshine is likely to disappoint those who have grown up playing Mario.
Sunshine! (THE GOOD):
+Very well designed levels, with a fair amount of legitimately fun challenges
+New control scheme very well implemented
+A fair amount of fun, well executed boss battles
+Bright, beautiful visuals
+Collecting all of the Shines gives this game a fair amount of replayability
-Too easy, which detracts somewhat from the overall fun of the title
-Storyline is funny, but not ha ha funny. More of a this is embarrassing funny
-Sound is subpar, due to horrendous voice acting and a lacking soundtrack
-Imperfect camera system will undoubtedly result in many dead Marios
-Some levels reused throughout the game (and not the fun ones )
Heat Stroke (THE UGLY): I do not want to ruin any of the story, so I won't go into specifics, but just know that Mario games and child custody battles should not mix. Ever. Where is Maury Povich when you need him?
THE VERDICT: 7.25/10.00
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/10/08, Updated 06/26/09
Game Release: Super Mario Sunshine (US, 08/25/02)
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